THE Whistleblowing Advocacy Coalition (WAC) has commended President Muhammadu Buhari for appealing to the National Assembly to consider and pass what he described as ‘the best possible version’ of three main anti-corruption bills, namely, Proceeds of Crime Bill, Whistleblower Bill and Witness Protection Bill.
The president’s plea was contained in a letter dated January 14, 2022, which was read to colleagues by Senate President Ahmed Lawan, and Speaker of the House of Representatives Femi Gbajabiamila.
Buhari had explained that the request was made following the international community’s appreciation for Nigeria’s effort in the fight against corruption at the 9th Session of State Parties to the United Nations Convention Against Corruption held in Egypt, and the need to continue to boost the country’s global image.
In a statement signed on behalf of the Whistleblowing Advocacy Coalition by Coordinator of African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL) Chido Onumah and Executive Director of Progressive Impact Organisation for Community Development (PRIMORG) Okhiria Agbonsuremi, the coalition said the consideration and passage of the three bills was long overdue because they were critical to a successful fight against corruption in Nigeria.
“We see the three bills as extremely important in checking pervasive corruption in the country; however, we are particularly delighted with the president’s reference to the whistleblower bill given the frontline role of whistleblowing as an instrument for combating corruption and other forms of wrongdoing, as well as achieving transparent, accountable and democratic good governance,” the statement said.
In emphasising the primacy of whistleblowing in society, the coalition stated that the country’s laws enjoined citizens to report crime but regretted that there were no laws to protect citizens facing all sorts of punishment for reporting illegalities.
According to the coalition, “With the announcement of the whistleblowing policy in 2016, it was taken for granted that citizens who demonstrate the rare courage to blow the whistle by submitting productive reports of corrupt practices to appropriate quarters would enjoy full protection, but the reverse has since been the case. In the absence of a robust legal framework that ensures effective protection for citizens who respond to the call to report crime, the regime of impunity manifested in routine arbitrary punishment of workers has taken firm root in the public sector. All kinds of reprisals ranging from threats and intimidation, suspension, withholding of salary, denial of promotion, outright dismissal and much more are continually being inflicted on whistleblowers in the public service.
“Regrettably, the masterminds and enforcers of the several victimizations have intensified efforts in all kinds of despicable schemes to punish whistleblowers by exploiting the gap created by the absence of a functional whistleblowing law that guarantees protection and sanctions perpetrators of victimization.”
Considering this situation, the coalition said it believed that the president’s call for the parliament to hurry up and pass a whistleblowing law, among others, could not have come at a better time.
The statement said, as the president rightly noted, there were whistleblowing bills in the National Assembly waiting for the lawmakers’ urgent attention. It also stated that a fresh whistleblowing bill by the Federal Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning which was the subject of a review retreat in Keffi, Nasarawa State, in conjunction with some civil society groups led by AFRICMIL in May 2021, would soon be sent to the National Assembly.
The bill, the statement said, contained copious inputs of the AFRICMIL-led CSO draft whistleblowing and Whistleblower Protection Bill, adding that the country eagerly looked forward to a harmonisation of all bills and the passage of a compelling whistleblowing legislation in the second quarter of 2022.
“This is the surest way of actualizing the cultural acceptance of whistleblowing as a potent weapon for fighting corruption in Nigeria,” the coalition noted.
The coalition urged the National Assembly to hasten the legislative processes to ensure a quick passage of the law before the end of the tenure of the current administration.
“We are optimistic that the Buhari administration and the 9th Assembly will find a good spot in the history of the fight against corruption in Nigeria with the enactment of the whistleblower protection law,” the coalition said.